Monday, July 31, 2017

"The Revenge of Analog" by David Sax: A Review

The digital world values analog more than anyone. . . .

What was more interesting was where these views on analog dovetailed with their work in digital. More and more I began to encounter individuals and even whole companies where analog tools and processes played a significance role in building digital software and hardware. In some cases, this came down to personal habits. Nearly every single startup founder, investor, adn programmer I met with carried a well-worn paper journal that they used to take notes and make designs, despite having access to every available digital alternative. "This is my company!" one startup founder told me, cradling the black Moleskine notebook  in his arms.

The more I looked into this, the deeper it went. I read articles about the lives of technology industry leaders who spoke about their personal aversion to digital gadgets with their families. Steve Jobs didn't let his kids play with the very iPads he created, Chris Anderson from Wired and The Long Tail set time limits on technology for his children, and Evan Williams, who cocreated the digital publishing platforms Twitter, Blogger, and Medium, lived in a technology-free house, with a huge library of books. Silicon Valley and San Francisco, the mecca of ed tech, were also home fo the most analog alternative schools in the country, from screen-free Waldorf and Montessori schools to outdoor kindergartens and a wild warehouse I visited called Brightworks School, where the children fo digital titans built their own classrooms with saws and drills. (207-208)

If you haven't been paying attention, the analog world isn't going quietly into the night. In fact, it is making a surprising comeback. Although the digital and technological world dominates our lives, from phones to tablets to personal computers to smart homes to online streaming to ebooks to online education and the rest, it does not have a complete monopoly. This reality is chronicled in the book The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax.

The book begins with a personal reflection from the author about a record store opening near his house which sells actual records. From there he shows that analog technology like "old-school" record albums are making a comeback. Although digital streaming and mp3 players like ipods and Pandora are convenient, they cannot and will never replace the classic record. The sound is unique and the possession is a prize.

The same is true for other aspects of our economy. Most notable is film and paper. One may recall dropping off a film of photos at their local convenience store and being frustrated when they weren't developed in an hour. The digital revolution changed that. Pictures are instant. We can snap, edit, delete, post, and repeat in seconds. As a result entire companies went out of business and local stores that profited from the industry had to restructure. Yet over the past few years, companies like Polaroid are coming back.

The same is true with paper. It is convenient to take notes with either Evernote or a stylus on your tablet, but the author notes the increase sales of actual journals and notepads. Most notable, however, regards magazines, newspapers, and especially books. The digital revolution produced the eReader and put countless bookstores out of business. But they are returning. Recent reports are showing that buyers are increasing, purchasing real books in increasing numbers as opposed to eBooks.

Most significant regards his chapter on education. What works best for children is not personal computers and access to technology, but what has always worked: a caring teacher that invests in them. The author notes one school that gave all of their students personal iPads that ended in disaster. For those who have taken online courses, clearly having a professor you can learn from and talk to in person is much better.

The reasons for these are many and I will let the author give them, yet most readers likely already have an idea. There is a difference between holding a book in your hands and reading words on a screen, for example. The author also notes that digital is no longer novel to the digital generation. Records and film are. They, after all, did not grow up with boxes of music in their attic collecting dust or with countless heavy albums detailing every vacation. Likewise, going to a store and being helped by an assistant and being served with customer service is a better experience than online shopping. The digital revolution is the height of convenience, but convenience isn't always better.

Sax has written a unique book that chronicles one of the more fascinating economic trends of our day. I have long considered myself a rebel who has hardly bought a digital book (unless it was free!) and has more recently considered investing in records (and never gave up on CDs). Now I've discovered I'm not so rebellious after all.
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